Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield

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Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.

Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield (22 September 169424 March 1773) was a British statesman and man of letters.


We must not suppose that, because a man is a rational animal, he will, therefore, always act rationally; or, because he has such or such a predominant passion, that he will act invariably and consequentially in pursuit of it.
Let it be your maxim through life, to know all you can know, yourself; and never to trust implicitly to the informations of others.
  • The idle story of the Pretender's having been introduced in a warming-pan, into the Queen's bed, though as destitute of all probability as of all foundation, has been much more prejudicial to the cause of Jacobitism, than all that Mr. Locke and others have written, to show the unreasonableness and absurdity of the doctrines of indefeasible hereditary right, and unlimited passive obedience.
    • Letter to his son (7 February 1749), quoted in The Life of Philip Dormer Stanhope Chesterfield, His Poems and the Substance of the System of Education Delivered in a Series of Letters to His Son (1774), p. 183
  • I foresee, that before the end of this century, the trade of both King and Priest will not be half so good a one as it has been.
    • Letter to his son (13 April 1752), quoted in Letters Written by the Late Right Honourable Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, to His Son, Philip Stanhope, Esq., Late Envoy Extraordinary at the Court of Dresden, Vol. III (1774), p. 289
  • The chapter of knowledge is a very short, but the chapter of accidents is a very long one.
    • To Solomon Dayrolles (16 February 1753)
  • I assisted at the birth of that most significant word "flirtation," which dropped from the most beautiful mouth in the world.
    • The World, No. 101 (5 December 1754)
  • Unlike my subject will I frame my song,
    It shall be witty, and it shan't be long.
    • Epigram on ("Long") Sir Thomas Robinson
  • At twelve you may walk, for at this time o' the year,
    The sun like your wit, is as mild, as 'tis clear:
    But mark in the meadows the ruin of Time;
    Take the hint, and let life be improv'd in its prime.
    • "Advice to a Lady in Autumn", published in A Collection of Poems in Six Volumes. By Several Hands. Vol. I. (1763), printed by J. Hughs, for R. and J. Dodsley
  • Cheerful with wisdom, with innocence gay,
    And calm with your joys gently glide thro' the day.
    The dews of the evening most carefully shun —
    Those tears of the sky for the loss of the sun.
    • "Advice to a Lady in Autumn", published in A Collection of Poems in Six Volumes. By Several Hands. Vol. I. (1763), printed by J. Hughs, for R. and J. Dodsley
  • Then in chat, or at play, with a dance, or a song,
    Let the night, like the day, pass with pleasure along.
    All cares, but of love, banish far from your mind;
    And those you may end, when you please to be kind.
    • "Advice to a Lady in Autumn", published in A Collection of Poems in Six Volumes. By Several Hands. Vol. I. (1763), printed by J. Hughs, for R. and J. Dodsley
  • I see that you are in fears again from your White Boys, and have destroyed a good many of them; but I believe, that if the military force had killed half as many landlords, it would have contributed more effectually to restore quiet. The poor people in Ireland are used worse than negroes by their Lords and Masters, and their Deputies of Deputies of Deputies. For there is a sentiment in every human breast that asserts man's natural right to liberty and good usage, and that will, and ought to rebel when oppressed and provoked to a certain degree.
  • Religion is by no means a proper subject of conversation in a mixed company.
    • Letter to his godson, No.112 (undated)
  • Tyrawley and I have been dead these two years; but we don't choose to have it known.
    • Quoted in Boswell's Life of Johnson
  • Marriage is the cure of love, and friendship the cure of marriage.
    • Detached Thoughts, first published in Letters and Works of Philip Dormer Stanhope, volume 5 (1847)
  • The nation looked upon him as a deserter, and he shrunk into insignificancy and an earldom.
    • Character of Pulteney; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919)
  • He adorned whatever subject he either spoke or wrote upon, by the most splendid eloquence.
    • Character of Bolingbroke; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919)

Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman (1774)

  • Be wiser than other people if you can; but do not tell them so.
    • 19 November 1745
  • Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.
    • 10 March 1746
  • The knowledge of the world is only to be acquired in the world, and not in a closet.
    • 4 October 1746
  • An injury is much sooner forgotten than an insult.
    • 9 October 1746
  • There is time enough for everything, in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once; but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time.
    • 14 April 1747
  • I really know nothing more criminal, more mean, and more ridiculous than lying. It is the production either of malice, cowardice, or vanity; and generally misses of its aim in every one of these views; for lies are always detected, sooner or later.
    • 21 September 1747
  • Courts and camps are the only places to learn the world in.
    • 2 October 1747
  • The world is a country which nobody ever yet knew by description; one must travel through it one's self to be acquainted with it.
    • 2 October 1747
  • Do as you would be done by, is the surest method of pleasing.
    • 9 October 1747
  • Take the tone of the company you are in.
    • 16 October 1747
  • I knew once a very covetous, sordid fellow, who used to say, "Take care of the pence, for the pounds will take care of themselves."
    • 6 November 1747
  • The young leading the young, is like the blind leading the blind; “they will both fall into the ditch.”
    • 24 November 1747
  • I recommend you to take care of the minutes: for hours will take care of themselves.
    • 1747
  • Patience, to hear frivolous, impertinent, and unreasonable applications: with address enough to refuse, without offending; or, by your manner of granting, to double the obligation: dexterity enough to conceal a truth, without telling a lie: sagacity enough to read other people’s countenances: and serenity enough not to let them discover anything by yours; a seeming frankness, with a real reserve. These are the rudiments of a politician; the world must be your grammar.
    • 15 January 1748
  • Advice is seldom welcome; and those who want it the most always like it the least.
    • 29 January 1748
  • Speak of the moderns without contempt, and of the ancients without idolatry.
    • 22 February 1748
  • Never seem wiser, nor more learned, than the people you are with. Wear your learning, like your watch, in a private pocket: and do not pull it out and strike it; merely to show that you have one.
    • 22 February 1748
  • Sacrifice to the Graces.
    • 9 March 1748
  • In my mind, there is nothing so illiberal and so ill-bred, as audible laughter.
    • 9 March 1748
  • I am sure that since I have had the full use of my reason, nobody has ever heard me laugh.
    • 9 March 1748
  • The characteristic of a well-bred man is, to converse with his inferiors without insolence, and with his superiors with respect and with ease.
    • 17 March 1748
  • Manners must adorn knowledge, and smooth its way through the world. Like a great rough diamond, it may do very well in a closet by way of curiosity, and also for its intrinsic value.
    • 1 July 1748
  • Women who are either indisputably beautiful, or indisputably ugly, are best flattered upon the score of their understandings; but those who are in a state of mediocrity are best flattered upon their beauty, or at least their graces; for every woman who is not absolutely ugly thinks herself handsome.
    • 5 September 1748
  • Little minds mistake little objects for great ones, and lavish away upon the former that time and attention which only the latter deserve. To such mistakes we owe the numerous and frivolous tribe of insect-mongers, shell-mongers, and pursuers and driers of butterflies, etc. The strong mind distinguishes, not only between the useful and the useless, but likewise between the useful and the curious.
    • 6 December 1748
  • A strong mind sees things in their true proportions; a weak one views them through a magnifying medium, which, like the microscope, makes an elephant of a flea: magnifies all little objects, but cannot receive great ones.
    • 10 January 1749
    • Sometimes quoted as: "A weak mind is like a microscope, which magnifies trifling things but cannot receive great ones." The first publication of this form yet located is in a section of proverbs called "Diamond Dust" in Eliza Cook's Journal, No. 98 (15 March 1851)
  • The herd of mankind can hardly be said to think; their notions are almost all adoptive; and, in general, I believe it is better that it should be so; as such common prejudices contribute more to order and quiet, than their own separate reasonings would do, uncultivated and unimproved as they are.
    • 7 February 1749
  • Without some dissimulation no business can be carried on at all.
    • 22 May 1749
  • I recommend to you, in my last, an innocent piece of art: that of flattering people behind their backs, in presence of those who, to make their own court, much more than for your sake, will not fail to repeat, and even amplify, the praise to the party concerned. This is of all flattery the most pleasing, and consequently the most effectual.
    • 22 May 1749
  • Idleness is only the refuge of weak minds.
    • 20 July 1749
  • Abject flattery and indiscriminate assentation degrade, as much as indiscriminate contradiction and noisy debate disgust. But a modest assertion of one’s own opinion, and a complaisant acquiescence in other people’s, preserve dignity.
    • 10 August 1749
  • Style is the dress of thoughts.
    • 24 November 1749
  • Women are much more like each other than men: they have, in truth, but two passions, vanity and love; these are their universal characteristics.
    • 19 December 1749
  • We must not draw general conclusions from certain particular principles, though, in the main, true ones. We must not suppose that, because a man is a rational animal, he will therefore always act rationally; or, because he has such or such a predominant passion, that he will act invariably and consequentially in the pursuit of it. No. We are complicated machines: and though we have one main-spring, that gives motion to the whole, we have an infinity of little wheels, which, in their turns, retard, precipitate, and sometimes stop that motion.
    • 19 December 1749
  • Know the true value of time; snatch, seize, and enjoy every moment of it. No idleness, no laziness, no procrastination: never put off till to-morrow what you can do to-day.
    • 26 December 1749
  • Dispatch is the soul of business.
    • 5 February 1750
  • I wish to God that you had as much pleasure in following my advice, as I have in giving it to you.
    • 5 February 1750
  • Knowledge may give weight, but accomplishments give luster, and many more people see than weigh.
    • 8 May 1750
  • Let blockheads read what blockheads wrote.
    • 1 November 1750
  • The manner is often as important as the matter, sometimes more so.
    • 1751
  • You had better refuse a favor gracefully, than to grant it clumsily. Manner is all, in everything: it is by manner only that you can please, and consequently rise. All your Greek will never advance you from secretary to envoy, or from envoy to ambassador; but your address, your manner, your air, if good, very probably may.
    • 18 March 1751
  • It is commonly said, and more particularly by Lord Shaftesbury, that ridicule is the best test of truth.
    • 6 February 1752
  • Let dull critics feed upon the carcasses of plays; give me the taste and the dressing.
    • 6 February 1752
  • Every woman is infallibly to be gained by every sort of flattery, and every man by one sort or other.
    • 16 March 1752
  • It is a great advantage for any man to be able to talk or hear, neither ignorantly nor absurdly, upon any subject; for I have known people, who have not said one word, hear ignorantly and absurdly; it has appeared by their inattentive and unmeaning faces.
    • 11 May 1752
  • A proper secrecy is the only mystery of able men; mystery is the only secrecy of weak and cunning ones.
    • 15 January 1753
  • There are some occasions in which a man must tell half his secret, in order to conceal the rest; but there is seldom one in which a man should tell all. Great skill is necessary to know how far to go, and where to stop.
    • 15 January 1753
  • The reputation of generosity is to be purchased pretty cheap; it does not depend so much upon a man’s general expense, as it does upon his giving handsomely where it is proper to give at all. A man, for instance, who should give a servant four shillings, would pass for covetous, while he who gave him a crown, would be reckoned generous; so that the difference of those two opposite characters, turns upon one shilling.
    • 15 January 1753
  • People will no more advance their civility to a bear, than their money to a bankrupt.
    • 25 December 1753
  • Let this be one invariable rule of your conduct—never to show the least symptom of resentment, which you cannot, to a certain degree, gratify; but always to smile, where you cannot strike.
    • 26 March 1754
  • Our conjectures pass upon us for truths; we will know what we do not know, and often, what we cannot know: so mortifying to our pride is the base suspicion of ignorance.
    • 14 December 1756
  • In short, let it be your maxim through life, to know all you can know, yourself; and never to trust implicitly to the informations of others.
    • 16 March 1759
  • It is an undoubted truth, that the less one has to do, the less time one finds to do it in. One yawns, one procrastinates, one can do it when one will, and therefore one seldom does it at all.
    • Letter


  • You foolish man, you do not understand your own foolish business.
    • Attributed to Chesterfield by George Agar-Ellis, 1st Baron Dover, in his 1833 edition of Horace Walpole's letters to Sir Horace Mann, similar statements have been attributed to many others, such as Lord Chief Justice Campbell, William Henry Maule (in the form "You silly old fool, you don't even know the alphabet of your own silly old business"), Sir William Harcourt, Lord Pembroke, Lord Westbury, and to an anonymous judge, and said to have been spoken in court to Garter King at Arms, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant, or some other high-ranking herald, who had confused a "bend" with a "bar" or had demanded fees to which he was not entitled. George Bernard Shaw uses it in Pygmalion (1912) in the form, "The silly people dont [sic] know their own silly business." Similar remarks occur in Charles Jenner's The Placid Man: Or, The Memoirs of Sir Charles Beville (1770): "Sir Harry Clayton ... was perhaps far better qualified to have written a Peerage of England than Garter King at Arms, or Rouge Dragon, or any of those parti-coloured officers of the court of honour, who, as a great man complained on a late solemnity, are but too often so silly as not to know their own silly business." "Old Lord Pembroke" (Henry Herbert, 9th Earl of Pembroke) is said by Horace Walpole (in a letter of 28 May 1774 to the Rev. William Cole) to have directed the quip, "Thou silly fellow! Thou dost not know thy own silly business," at John Anstis, Garter King at Arms. Edmund Burke also quotes such a remark in his "Speech in the Impeachment of Warren Hastings, Esq." on 7 May 1789: "'Silly man, that dost not know thy own silly trade!' was once well said: but the trade here is not silly."
  • Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.
    • The French attribute this to the painter Nicolas Poussin (born 15 June 1594) "Ce qui vaut la peine d'être fait vaut la peine d'être bien fait"
  • [On sex] The pleasure is momentary, the position ridiculous, the expense damnable.

Quotes about Chesterfield

  • It wasn't until I grew up and read Lord Chesterfield that I began my education. He became my tutor and the public library my university.
  • For my part, I like more straight-forward work.
    • George III on Chesterfield's Letters, as recorded in Frances Burney's journal (April or May 1774), quoted in The Early Diary of Frances Burney, 1768–1778: With a Selection from Her Correspondence, and From the Journals of Her Sisters Susan and Charlotte Burney, Vol. I, ed. Annie Raine Ellis (1889), p. 305
  • They teach the morals of a whore, and the manners of a dancing master.
    • Samuel Johnson on Chesterfield's Letters, quoted in James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1791), p. 1754
  • To my great surprise they seem really written from the heart, not for the honour of his head, and in truth do no great honour to the last, nor show much feeling in the first, except in wishing for his son's fine gentleman-hood.
    • Horace Walpole on Chesterfield's Letters; letter to Rev. William Mason (9 April 1774), quoted in The Correspondence of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford, and the Rev. William Mason, Now First Published from the Original Mss, Vol. I, ed. J. Mitford (1851), p. 141